Friday, February 6, 2009

The Problem with Memoirs: They Are Fiction

Given the fact that memories are unreliable as objective recordings of facts, and that memories merely offer perceptions of actual incidents, why call written recollections of the past “memoirs” at all? To create such a genre implies their “nonfictional” status, when in fact, they ought to be labeled “based on a true story,” to keep them from later being called “lies” or “misrepresentations” of the “truth” (whatever the heck that is!).

Recently, a Holocaust survivor published a widely acclaimed memoir, but he enhanced his actual story with a romanticized fiction portion. Thus, he was deemed a fabricator, and his book, a phony memoir. He didn't intend to deceive with his words, though; he intended only to touch hearts. He could have avoided that misconception of himself altogether merely by calling his Holocaust romance a “mostly true” story, or a tale “based on a true story.”

“Memoir” is a bogus word anyway, one created solely for marketing purposes, I think. My siblings and I could write three different memoirs about the same incident in our family life, and each account would sound markedly different, because memoirs merely reflect perceptions of past events, not objective facts. A memoir is not necessarily an excerpt of an autobiography; its most important truth lies in its emotional resonance. Truth is a matter of opinion sometimes....